Kuwait - a 'Fifth Pod' Operation, by Jack Wesson (1965)

Kuwait in the wintertime is an agreeable place, with bright sunny days and crisp, sometimes frosty nights. Kuwait Airport was also agreeable in 1965, not overly crowded, quite pleasingly laid out and decorated, and with only a small number of flights. These included a once or twice weekly flight to nearby Abadan and a weekly flight very late on a Sunday night to Bombay and Colombo.

Abadan must have been less than half an hour’s flying time away and the fuel flight plan for that sector, such as it was, was pre-computed and required minimal adjustment. Kuwait-Bombay, though, required a full fuel flight plan to be completed. This task was normally undertaken largely by the resident district sales and traffic manager or the operations officer, but in mid-November both had gone away on extended leave, leaving me as the recently arrived acting DSTM to do the flight planning for the next eight weeks.

On my first Sunday in Kuwait, before they left, I had watched them at work and they had briefed me fully. This briefing, together with a few days refresher training I had had the previous month was, I imagined, all I would need to enable me to produce a finely honed flight plan.

However, on my first Sunday morning in sole charge of operations, I received a signal from the control centre at Heathrow saying that the inbound aircraft from London that night would be a ‘fifth pod operation’. At that time it was the practice to ferry spare engines to overseas stations slung under the aircraft wing.

Such non-standard operations were fully described in the operations manuals, along with more exotic ones such as three-engine ferry and stepped climb, but on operations courses they were inevitably given only a passing mention as something that didn’t occur often, and which if it did would be something the senior station officer would be available to deal with.

I knew from my reading of the operations manual that the fifth pod had virtually no effect on the lateral stability of the aircraft, but that it did have to be included in the empty weight of the aircraft, the APS (aircraft prepared for service) weight.

When I did a rough calculation of what the traffic load would be on the Kuwait-Bombay sector, and took into account the take-off weight of 128,000 kgs. that applied at Kuwait because of the unstable runway, the figures seemed to show that I would not be able to get all the passengers and cargo, plus the spare engine, on the one weekly aircraft to Bombay.

I sent several signals back to the control centre at Heathrow during the course of Sunday, but their replies simply stated that the captain would clarify the situation on arrival. At one stage it crossed my mind that the answer might be to re-route the aircraft to make an intermediate stop in Bahrain, but the airport there was closed at night and required several hours notice for it to be specially opened.

During the evening I picked up the weather data from the tower and began sketching out my flight plan. While doing this I checked out the latest NOTAMs, ‘notices to airmen’, that would reveal any unusual or hazardous circumstances that might affect the route the aircraft was to take to Bombay. The letters QUIAZ stared out at me - the code that indicated air-to-air firing. Not only was my aircraft, by my calculation, unable to get airborne, it now ran the risk, even if it did, of being shot at by either the Pakistani Air Force or the Indian Air Force, or perhaps even by both!

As the evening wore on, I was sweating my way through the flight plan in the tiny operations office, when it at last occurred to me that the weight of the spare engine, that I had correctly added to the APS weight, did not have to be deducted from the regulated take-off weight - what cerebral disorder had led me to think it did?

The figures finally added up, and when the captain’s voice came over the VHF radio, I was able to quote him a fuel figure that would get him, the passengers, the cargo and 3,200kgs of spare engine to Bombay, carefully routed well clear of any trigger-happy fighter pilots.

I waited the required hour after the aircraft had left before driving back into the city. The house was in darkness and across the sandy street I could see the shell of the Kuwait Hilton then under construction. I read the Sunday papers that Monday morning, then fell into a dreamless sleep.

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